Ironman Florida 2016
Ironman Florida! Such an awesome race. This was my very first ironman back in 2009 and my first Kona qualifier so I was super pumped to be back. Out of the two times I’ve done this race, my best time on this course was the first time I raced it. I had done a 10:34 and it was my personal mission to break that, especially my swim split. I had swum a 1:09, biked a 5:29 and ran a 3:43. Looking back on where I was to where I am now, I have grown so much physically and mentally. I knew it would be so thrilling to come back and break my previous time.
Improving my swim
In races past, I’ve never quite given my swim training the proper attention it deserved. I’ve learned to respect swimming and its complexities. I see the beauty in the sport and love how it challenges and humbles me. Before triathlon, I grew up as a runner and never properly trained like a swimmer or refined my technique. I was never a bad swimmer, I just lacked proper technique and swim specific strength. When I realized that just swimming alone was not helping me get better, I explored ways in which I could improve my method for improvement.
I had a great interest in the Vasa SwimErg because it was a way I could analyze my technique and measure my workouts through tracking my watts. Vasa introduced me to Coach Eric Neilsen. Eric was able to write up a structured SwimErg training plan and built me workouts based on power. My watch would record my watts during my workouts through the ANT+ technology. This allowed me to upload my data to Trainingpeaks for Eric to analyze and track my progress. During my time working with Eric, I had a PR half ironman swim at the Best in the West half ironman. I was thrilled to see improvement in my racing and in my pool workouts. I felt strong and was so excited to feel that way leading into Ironman Florida.
Looking back at my swim at Ironman Florida, this was my second slowest swim split I’ve done in an ironman. It didn’t add up, how come I didn’t PR in the swim when I had done so in half the distance just a few months before? I do feel there were some hurdles that I could have better prepared myself for. The conditions were wavier than I have ever swum in before. On the second loop, I noticed I could no longer easily sight the buoys. A few other swimmers and I even swam off course! We all picked our heads up at the same time and said: “dang, what happened?”. Seeing the benefits of my strength build up from the Vasa SwimErg would have to wait due to this off course situation.
I came out of the water and miraculously felt great energy wise. I wasn’t at all fatigued as I have been in the past. That was an exciting feeling. I do think if I had practiced more in open water and practiced sighting more frequently, I could have tackled those hurdles I experienced in the swim. I missed the mark by being unprepared for the waves and the need to sight frequently. I ended up swimming a 1:15. My first loop was 35 mins so clearly, something went awry on that second loop. I kept my head in the game because I knew it was a long day and there were many challenges ahead of me I'd have to tackle. The plus side was knowing that the sports just get easier for me from there.
My bike goal was to beat my 5:29 bike split. That meant I would have to average about 20.6 mph. I set myself up well the first 30 miles. It was very windy, but I was feeling good. My hurdle on the bike came in the form of not passing a guy in front of me quickly enough. There had just happened to be a bike course marshall coming by in their motorbike at the time I was making my pass (into a headwind mind you). They showed me the blue card meaning I had been drafting and had to report to the nearest bike penalty tent and serve 5 mins! Ugh!!! Such bad luck. It is one thing to meaningfully draft and another thing to get into a draft zone and miss getting out of there quick enough. I chalked it up to: “dang what a rookie mistake” and "just another little bump I have to get through". I shared a laugh with some of the others also serving a penalty in the tent with me and then got back on my way. I kept my watch running to record what would happen to my average mph. When I got back riding I had gone from averaging 22 mph before the 5 min stop to 19 mph! Double ugh!! I had to somehow get back to 20.6 mph before the end of the ride to reach my goal.
My plan with my tri coach was to keep an eye on both my mph and my watts. Since it was windy out, I didn’t want to put out too much power while trying to get back up to speed. This is where I went wrong. I gave it too much power while trying to make up the time I had lost. By 2 miles left of the 112 bike ride, I started feeling dizzy. I had to drop my pace quite a bit to keep cycling straight! I remember people I had passed miles ago passing me at this point.
I made it back to transition, handed a volunteer my bike and walked to my gear bag. I ended up needing a volunteer to help me to my bag. He had noticed I looked dizzy and asked me if I knew what city I was in. I correctly told him I was in Panama City Beach. He led me into my proper change tent and I sat there with a female volunteer where she helped me get my run shoes on. I sat there and told her I was dizzy and never experienced this before. She gave me skittles and Reese's peanut butter cups and I started to feel better. 9 mins later….(I know, omg), I told myself to put one foot in front of the other and just get going.
I felt pretty weak and felt overwhelmed with how far I had to go. How was I going to get through 26.2 miles? I honestly had NO CLUE. I just tried to stay in the moment and take it 1 mile at a time. Cheers from my Florida friends in the crowd renewed my energy. I felt their love and support and was energized by fond memories. I remembered how far I’ve come since 2009. I remembered why I do this sport. I remembered that I believed deeply in myself and all of a sudden felt strong. My friends from Base Salt handed me their Amino drink from their tent along the run course and that helped me a ton as well. I felt my strongest on the second loop of the run. I just kept running faster and faster and even told myself to be careful because I wanted to be able to make it to the finish line.
I finally saw the finish chute and my mum and dads smiling faces. I had done it! After not knowing if I’d make it, I had willed myself on and could not have been happier. I talked myself through some very dark moments in my head and defeated that voice that tried to get me to give in. My marathon was one of my better run splits in an ironman race. I had run a 3:38 and successfully beat my marathon run split from 2009. So I got one of the 3!
After all that, I finished in 10 hours and 46 mins which was 1 min shy of 5th place in the (very competitive) 30-34 age group. It’s been hard not to look back and think, gosh, had I not have gotten that penalty, had I prepared better for bad open water conditions and swam a bit faster, maybe I could have pulled myself together a little quicker while I was taking a 9 minute transition, I could have placed higher and had a faster time, but what I’ve realized is that those things have nothing to do with what fulfills me in this sport. What fulfills me is the things I learn on this journey, the people I get to meet and be inspired by, the things I can do to help others on their own journeys. That is what fulfills me. The thrill is when you witness yourself surpass the person you used to be. The challenges I experience in my racing keep me hungry. I know I can be better. I believe I can, so I keep trying.